|SGA FIC: Tanlines & Dogtags - Lorne/Sheppard - NC-17
||[Apr. 11th, 2007|09:29 am]
|[||Tags|||||sga, sga fics||]|
Fic! With naked pictures and so NC-17.
I may rename it, but I can't think of a decent name at the moment so I'm just going with the working title.
Thank you to amothea, wordwitch, and filenotch for encouragement and lots and lots of beta reading.
This story is the property of auburnnothenna. I posted the first part on a lark (some of you may have already read the first bit). She asked, more or less, "How the heck would anyone get John to pose for nude photos?" Well, I said, it went like this....
Tanlines & Dogtags
"Oh my god, that's hot." Cadman's voice carried through the door of her quarters. The girls' poker night was well underway, but there was no sound of plastic chips scattering across the table.
"Who did you bribe and where can we get more?" Novak said.
Cadman chuckled. "For your eyes only, girls."
Elizabeth said through her suppressed laughter, "Oh. This is a terrible breach of his privacy...."
"You are not calling the cops on us!" Cadman swore. There was the definite sound of a pillow being thrown.
"...and that being said," Elizabeth continued, swallowing. "Wow. If we ever have a pin-up calendar--" There were squeals of laughter. "--as a charitable fundraiser of course, I will certainly ask Colonel Sheppard to contribute."
"For the... children of Athos?" Teyla said, her subtle smirk evident.
There was a soft clicking as they paged through the photos on Cadman's laptop. The blue glow lit the four women clustered around her desk, the cards abandoned on the small table behind them.
"Ungh. Look at that one." Novak leaned her chin on folded hands. "He's holding his...." Her eyes went wide.
Elizabeth popped a potato chip into her mouth. "Well. I'd feel much more guilty if it weren't obvious the colonel posed for these. They are quite, ah," she rolled her head and blinked, "professional quality."
"Don't tell me you feel guilty?" Cadman said.
"Well..." she temporized.
"I feel no such shame," Teyla said, her voice smooth and serene. "I have seen his own 'reading material.' It was far more explicit."
"Turn about is fair play?" Cadman purred.
"He is merely in no position to complain," she said.
"Do we have any with his butt?" Novak chirped, interrupting. The other women turned to her in startled surprise. "What? He has a cute butt."
Cadman leaned forward, clicking ahead several photos with an eager gleam. "Hmm. There was this one where he's jumping after a frisbee ... oooh," she joined in the chorus of appreciative moans. "I forgot how good that one was."
"He is..." Teyla swallowed. "...quite athletic."
"I'll say," Elizabeth murmured.
"He's a little long in the torso." Cadman eyed the photo critically.
"That's not the only place where he's long," Elizabeth said. The girls laughed and Teyla swatted her arm.
The room fell into breathless silence as they paged through the next several photos, a brilliant blue sky behind the colonel, and breakers rolling onto the beach. He climbed black rocks in a series of close-ups, his head dipped boyishly as he searched for footholds, the muscles of his back straining. Then he stood on top, arms raised in triumph.
Teyla mused aloud, "It is a pity about all his scars. The one on his thigh is quite pronounced."
"Really? I would think the Athosians would appreciate a little scarring," Elizabeth turned to her. "As a sign of, oh, toughness."
"A little scarring?" Novak said.
"My people value going through life unscathed," Teyla explained.
"Well, I like 'em," Cadman declared. "Shows me I'm getting a real man."
"Oh. Oh, my," Elizabeth interrupted, covering her mouth as she smothered a laugh. John had been tossed a football on top of the rocks and was poised to throw it back. "The one on his arm. That was a tattoo at one point. I bet there's a story behind that. No wonder he never takes off his shirt."
"I think the only really ugly one is that thing on his neck," Novak said.
"There." Novak pointed, touching the screen. "That must have been one heck of a shaving cut."
Elizabeth paused. "That's... that's from the Iratus bug."
"Yes. It appears so." Teyla peered closer.
"Then these were taken within the last two years."
"Looking good for thirty-nine," Novak said. A confused expression crossed her face. "Or thirty-seven or thirty-eight or...."
"I, I guess I'd just assumed these were taken a long time ago. You know, before Antarctica."
Teyla frowned. "Of course they're recent." She nodded to the laptop. "That is the Atlantis mainland. And the uh... beach blanket?... several photos back is of Athosian design."
"What beach blanket?" Cadman leaned up and clicked backwards through the photos. "Okay. How you could ever notice a beach blanket when...."
"I'm trained to notice detail," said Teyla.
"Nice arms," Novak commented, reaching for a handful of popcorn. "Love it how he leans back on his elbows like that."
"Yeah," Cadman laughed, "You're looking at his arms."
"But don't you see the implications? This means," Elizabeth paused dramatically, "that someone in Atlantis had to have taken these photos."
The four women stared at each other.
"Or someone from the Daedalus," Teyla pointed out.
Cadman shrugged and turned back to the computer. "It was Rodney."
"Well, that's where I got the pictures! It was all on this hard drive that he handed over to Zelenka to be de-commed, bless Doctor Z's unethical and profiteering little heart. He made me swear not to tell anyone." Cadman continued, "He had, like, sixty of them."
"Rodney?" Teyla said in astonishment.
"Zelenka's selling nude photos of the colonel?" Elizabeth said, aghast.
"Sixty?" Novak said (proving she was the only one who had her priorities straight).
"I knew John and Rodney were close but I would never have imagined...." Teyla continued, a hand pressed to her chest.
But Novak was shaking her head violently, hair spinning, her lips pursed. "Nope. No way it was Rodney."
Elizabeth tipped her head and admitted, "Well, we don't always know each other as well as we might imagine...."
Cadman snickered, saying, "Or else we know each other very, very well." Teyla smiled.
"It was not Rodney," Novak insisted. "He couldn't take these." She swallowed a hiccup. "I review all the science data transmissions back to earth, and Rodney, he can't hold a camera steady to save his life. Everything's off-center and jiggling around. It makes me seasick." She glanced around at them nervously, as if she'd just noticed she was the center of attention. "The social scientists all complain about it because sometimes he cuts off half the text," she added.
"So... not Rodney?" Teyla said.
"True. I've heard those complaints," Elizabeth said. "And these show a good artistic eye."
"Rodney can't draw a stick figure," Cadman agreed.
"Oh, thank goodness," Teyla sighed. She added with an apologetic smile, "There are some things one does not wish to know about one's teammates."
"Like how they look in just tan lines and dog-tags?" Cadman smirked at the photo of Sheppard on the beach blanket.
"He looks very happy," Teyla said indulgently.
"He does, doesn't he?" Elizabeth said with her own fond smile. "Well. It seems we have a little mystery, ladies."
Cadman stood, dusting her hands off loudly on her jeans. She abruptly minimized the slideshow and put her hands on her hips. "So. Who's up for some poker?"
"What?" Elizabeth said, startled.
"Hey...." said Novak.
"I beg your pardon?" said Teyla.
"I mean, that wasn't sixty, was it?" Novak added, confused, glancing back and forth between them. "I must've lost count."
"Just kidding," Cadman grinned at them all, wrinkling her nose as she maximized the screen.
Elizabeth had nearly forgotten about... well, not their little slideshow. But the mystery had slipped her mind until Atlantis was ordered to take a mandatory rest day.
She had very deliberately not looked into jumper logs as to just who John traveled to the mainland with on a regular basis – though she'd been tempted, she had to admit. But it would have been an abuse of her authority, and they had violated John's privacy enough. She felt she owed him.
Although not that much.
"People keep looking at me funny," John complained, squirming in his chair. She closed her eyes at his all-too-familiar sprawl. Those photos were the ones where he was dripping wet and his dog-tags had ended up high on his chest, arms crossed behind his head.
"Really?" Elizabeth said with arch innocence.
"Yeah. And that doctor on the Daedalus?" He frowned, looking up through his lashes. "She hit on me really hard."
"It must be your 'aura of command,'" Elizabeth offered. "Lieutenant Colonel." And darn it, she was flirting with him.
"Yeah," John said doubtfully, licking his lips. He gave her a hard look, eyes narrowing.
But after all, a woman in her position didn't often have the luxury of friends; it was a sign of trust that Cadman had been willing to include her. She did send out a memo to the department heads, however, warning them to be on the alert for sales of contraband -- with Zelenka's department listed first. She trusted he'd get the message.
She also checked into the hard drive situation, trying to convince herself it was not curiosity – or at least not entirely curiosity – but a valid concern about potential emotional conflicts within her command staff. Sure enough, she was going to have to have another chat with Rodney about the joys of delegation: he had taken over the management of all decommissioned hardware. That hard drive could have come from anyone. She should have known Rodney would have been much better at covering his tracks: he was certainly aware that deleted files were merely de-flagged and still on the drive. Which ruled out most of the other scientists as well.
Not that she was looking or anything.
So it had been several weeks and the whole question was back-burnered by the time Elizabeth strolled from balcony to balcony on their mandatory "rest day," admittedly restless and bored. The weather was perfect, like a spring day, crystal blue skies. She felt the breeze in her hair and wanted nothing more than to be doing something. She supposed she'd become an adrenaline junkie.
"Um... you're kinda in the light there."
Elizabeth turned sharply to find Lorne's amused face peeking around an easel.
"Oh, I'm sorry." She edged around to take a look. The canvas was covered in a wash of blue with upward streaks of light and shade showing where the towers of Atlantis would be. "You paint."
It was inane but she was too surprised.
"It's multi-media," Lorne explained, wiping a brush on his pant leg, not quite looking at her. There were already smears of color across his thigh and the fabric looked rather damp. "You really need water color to capture the way the light is here, but the towers, the city itself? Needs oil." He waved a brush. "It's the colors. Clear and strong. Can't do that with water color."
"Ah," Elizabeth said, uncomprehending. She raised her eyebrows though, impressed. "I didn't realize you were such an artist."
He shrugged, offhanded. "I'd never be able to describe this place otherwise. I mean," the brush touched canvas as he frowned at it, deep-set eyes intense, "photography's great, but it doesn't really capture what you see." He scratched his head, leaving a streak of red paint in his hair. A small frustrated frown creased his forehead. "No matter how hard I try to control the lighting, the setting, and frame the shot... it just doesn't make it."
"So you're also a photographer?" she asked.
"Try to be." He turned back to his painting with a sheepish chuckle. "But there aren't a lot of real photographers in the world to be honest. You could take a hundred pictures of the same person and never get one that's really them. I think it's because we see more with our eyes than just what's there, you know what I mean?" He looked at her, his bright eyes anxious.
She pursed her lips and nodded, though in truth her own experience in art was limited to one art history class in college. "Well, then." She clapped her hands together. "I guess I'll leave you to it."
He nodded, already intent on his artwork, eyes focused the same way she'd seen him sight down a gun barrel.
The things you learned... Elizabeth froze in her tracks with sudden understanding, but Lorne was too deep in his work to see her turn back towards him, staring, mouth open and breathless.
As she walked away, she wondered what his painting of John Sheppard looked like, and realized that she wasn't going to tell the girls.
It had started a couple months back.
Lorne's hair was still wet from the showers after M3R-287. He leaned one shoulder against the door frame where he'd tracked the colonel to his quarters and filled him in on the vital bits of his last mission. It spared the colonel from having to read the report (which he wouldn't anyway), and Lorne some military doublespeak. Sheppard more or less listened, nodding at key points as he flipped through a new golfing magazine. Peering over, Lorne saw an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: John was the most recent to return from Earth leave, and so had magazines Lorne hadn't read. He wasn't going to ask, but....
As their conversation wandered off-topic, John caught how Lorne's glance kept dropping to the magazine. With a knowing smile, he inclined his head in the direction of the dresser. "Top drawer," he said, his eyes laughing.
Only another airman who'd been posted far from home knew the allure of anything new from Earth. Lorne beamed, setting his pack on the floor.
The colonel set his magazine aside on the bed and hefted his enormous copy of War and Peace. Lorne shook his head subtly as he rifled through three golfing magazines, Powder, Ski, a porn rag he'd check out later, selecting Discover. He wondered how the colonel could keep track of Tolstoy's characters when he read it so slow.
They read in silence, just hanging out, easy and well past the point of conversation, with nothing but the occasional sound of a turning page.
The colonel curled on his side in his bunk, head propped up on one elbow, intent in a pool of warm light, looking less like a colonel in the U.S. Air Force and more like a teenager. Something about the moment struck Lorne and, as they say, old habits die hard. He eased the camera gently from its case in his pack and snapped the picture with a soft click.
John looked up, caught somewhere between bemused and surprised. "Hey, quit it. Put that thing away."
"Can I help it if you're photogenic?" Lorne said, though he put the camera back in its case.
"I'm not-- I look like shit in pictures."
Lorne shrugged as he slipped to the floor, picking up John's golfing magazine from the bed. "You probably do. Most people barely know what end of a camera to use."
He figured that was that.
But later Sheppard continued the conversation as they stood in line in the mess, as if Lorne had been thinking about it. Which he hadn't.
John started rather intensely, leaning into Lorne's space. "You see, everyone who points a camera in my direction gets some, I dunno, evil eye look or my hair sticks up or something. It looks..." He was on the verge of embarrassed laughter. "... impressively bad."
"I like your hair," Lorne said simply.
"Just. Stop pointing cameras at me, okay? It makes me nervous."
"Okay." He hadn't planned to take any other photos actually. It had just been an impulse. He'd carried a camera a lot longer than he'd been in the armed forces.
As they sat down and ate together, Lorne couldn't quite resist defending photography as a whole. He set his fork on his plate and explained, "You know, it's never the camera, or the person in front of the camera. It's always the photographer."
Sheppard gave him a funny look, his narrowed eyes a little stung and resentful. "I thought you said I was photogenic."
Lorne looked away, trying not to smile. Sometimes, John Sheppard could be unpredictable. "That helps."
"Thanks anyway." He gave Lorne a stern level stare. "But no cameras."
Okay. Make that unpredictable all the time.
John had joined Lorne for his workout and was jogging backwards as he explained again. Evan had just been thinking that they were probably spending more time together than looked strictly kosher, when John started in on it. Again.
"It's just that I have kinda funny ears that stick out when you catch me at a certain angle, and sometimes one eye looks smaller than another. And then my nose is a little weird. I mean, I know the package over all is okay, it's not like I have a complex or anything." He shrugged. "It's just that I'm not the sort of person who's 'conventionally good-looking.' I know that."
Lorne shook his head at the mess of quirks, hang-ups, and vulnerability he'd just... walked into by taking one picture. He opened his mouth and closed it. Then he finally said, "I was looking at the line of your back and how the light fell across your shoulders. If you want to see it...."
"I thought I told you no cameras."
"I already took it!" Lorne said in frustration. "But it'll be the last one, I swear."
"The last one?" John sounded -- astoundingly -- vaguely disappointed.
"If this is the reaction I get, yeah."
Lorne instinctively knew he'd have no peace until he showed Colonel Sheppard that picture. The fact that he wouldn't shut up about it was a good clue. Inwardly he prayed that it was decent, but there was little chance of it, given it was just a spur of the moment thing and he hadn't even taken much effort to set up the shot. So he led Sheppard back to his quarters and downloaded all the pictures from M3R-287 until he came to it, holding his breath.
John eyed it critically, head tipped to the side. "Okay, I admit, that's probably the best picture anyone's ever taken of me."
Lorne was pleased, but in the interest of full disclosure he had to explain what exactly was wrong with the photo, the poor quality of the digital camera, the fact that it was underexposed, the angle of the lamp that he hadn't noticed when he took the shot that spoiled the whole peaceful mood. He stopped talking when he realized he'd gone on for a while and that Sheppard was looking at him with a smirking, bemused expression: that glazed "information overload" look Sheppard got from time to time.
"You're really into this art stuff, aren't you?" Sheppard said with a spreading smile. "Also, you definitely can't take a compliment."
What part of 'art degree' did he not understand? Plus, "You're much worse about compliments." He remembered to add belatedly, "Sir."
Sheppard chuckled. "You're not the first person to say that." He tipped his head in acknowledgement.
After he left, Lorne thought to email him a copy. Since he'd liked it. It had been a while since Lorne had had an appreciative audience for his creative stuff.
It turned into a regular topic of conversation over lunch when one or another of them wasn't off-world. Sheppard's ignorance concerning art was staggering. He hadn't anything to do with it since a paper mache project in sixth grade camp. Which was a sad statement on America's public schools, Lorne thought.
"No way," Sheppard said, laughing and shaking his head as he set down his tray. "People take their clothes off in front of the entire room and you paint them?"
"It's not porn." Evan rolled his eyes.
"If you say so." Sheppard was still smiling, obviously deeply amused.
"Look, there is a moment when he first takes his clothes off where it's kinda -- whoa, okay, naked person. But after that, it's all about shadows and light and you're either really getting into the painting or swearing at what's not working. You practically forget he's there."
"Hold on. Back up a minute there -- he?"
"We worked basically fifty-fifty with male and female models."
"He?" John Sheppard seemed to frozen on that one thought.
Annoyed, Lorne decided to blow his mind. He folded his arms challengingly. "Artistically there's nothing like the human body, the play of light across skin. And yeah, a lot of my best work in school was male nudes."
Lorne figured that was going to be the end of that topic of conversation. Sheppard was quiet for a long time.
Then Sheppard shook his head as if getting rid of an idea. "You couldn't pay me enough to do that."
That's when Evan realized that Sheppard was considering it.
Sheppard would be an impossible subject. He was kinetic. All flight and movement and energy. Plus he was camera shy, so he'd change in front of the camera. It wouldn't be him. He met Sheppard's eyes and recognized they both knew what the other was thinking. He snickered, embarrassed and shaking his head. "No."
"You could not pay me enough," Sheppard said with emphasis. They were having trouble looking at each other. "Strippers at least get money stuffed in their g-strings."
Lorne said with disgust and frustration, "It's not like that."
Sheppard dropped the conversation after that, and, okay, they avoided each other for at least a week. But they'd been spending a lot more time together than was normal for them, mostly because when Sheppard got curious he had to know everything.
Lorne couldn't help thinking, how would he relax someone that was so... active and camera-shy? It was such an impossible project that he whittled away at the idea, considering the possibilities. He could let John take some pictures to get a feel for it, for one thing.
It wasn't until Lorne got a little banged up on M77-352 that Sheppard stopped by the infirmary, his arms folded protectively across his chest as he stood well away, watching the doc stitch up Lorne's face just above his left eyebrow. Lorne flinched even with the topical anesthetic. Not that he could feel it. Just the idea of having someone sew your face.
"Now, now," Sheppard teased him, still standing well back. "After the doctor's done you'll get a lollipop."
"Yeah, well, he's got a needle in my head, sir. It's a little distracting."
"You'll just have to be more careful in the future," Sheppard said in that annoying smug voice.
Lorne said sarcastically, "Yeah. I'll try to avoid any future ambushes, sir." Sometimes Sheppard brought out the Jersey in him.
"You do that." Sheppard grinned.
But the colonel was edgy, hovering, like he had something to say. Once the doc left the room, he was grinning and kind of embarrassed. He started and stopped, then finally said, "Why do they have to be completely naked?" He swiped at his mouth. "Can't they be in their underwear or a bathing suit or something?"
The doc had walked back in and was looking at them funny. Lorne explained, "We're talking about art. Models."
"Ah," Carson nodded. "Frankly," he said, swabbing Lorne's face, "I'll never understand you Americans' awkwardness about nudity. Obviously when we studied the body in medical school they had no clothes on. One cannot understand what one cannot see. Not every form of nudity is intimate in nature, Colonel." He gave John a chiding look.
"Thank you!" Lorne said. "See? That's it exactly."
Sheppard grumbled, "It looks pretty damned intimate to me."
It wasn't till Sheppard walked away that Lorne realized what he was asking. He almost slapped his forehead, or would have if hadn't just gotten six stitches.
Someone get the net, before he gets away.
Released from the infirmary, Lorne mumbled a "thanks, doc" and he squinted at the air, trying to think how he could salvage this situation. He pulled on a sweater and paced his office. He should just leave it alone. Even if he'd come up with some good ideas that might... nah, probably wouldn't work. The colonel was touchy and anyhow, how would this look?
Finally, he gave in and fired off an email. That was safe, right?
Yes, they could be in a bathing suit or something, if they weren't being paid to be nude.
He didn't get an answer. Though by now he knew the colonel well enough to figure he hadn't stopped thinking about it.
This was about the time Lorne learned just how neurotic the ranking military commander of the entire Atlantis expedition could be. And the implications were scary if he dwelled on it too much, which he didn't, because he was too busy weathering the storm.
He didn't hear word one from the colonel for a couple of days, and then found himself confronted with a dressing down so calm, hard-eyed, and fierce, one of the marines beside him whistled afterward. "Who pissed in his Wheaties today?"
Lorne took pains to avoid John for a while after that, hoping it would all blow over. But not a day later the colonel sought him out and stood behind him in line at dinner, then sat down beside him with an air of resolute determination... and then talked around him to Teyla the whole time. Lorne quietly ate, keeping his head down.
Pretty soon, it seemed like every time Lorne turned around Colonel Sheppard was there. Looking someplace else. Talking to someone else. But right there.
It was a little freaky.
Then without one word said about it, he and Sheppard were scheduled for a trip to the mainland. Together. Two ATA carriers didn't need to be on the same run. Not to mention the CO and XO probably shouldn't be on the same run, something Lorne would have mentioned to him before, but didn't dare touch with a ten-foot pole now.
Lorne half expected a terse, "bring your camera" appended to the orders, but Sheppard didn't mention it. Debating the whole problem inwardly, Lorne decided it didn't hurt to be prepared. But if the Colonel didn't bring it up, no way in hell he was going to.
The flight to the mainland was just as stiff as things had been over the last week or so. Sheppard rapped out orders, staring straight ahead, eyes glaring through the window of the puddlejumper like there was anything more interesting than the horizon out there. Lorne responded promptly, politely, with his head pulled in, eyes wide.
He was usually good at keeping his head down around difficult commanders, something Sheppard hadn't been until very recently. In fact, Sheppard had been so easy that Lorne had often forgotten the difference in rank between them. He was highly aware of it now.
They landed on the mainland and went through the motions of a normal supply mission. Met with Halling. He tapped out the Bill of Lading on the PDA while Sheppard talked to a couple of kids who'd gathered to watch the puddlejumper fly. They did a circuit of the settlement, met with some of the men who had guard duty and checked with them about anything they might have seen that could seem odd or out of the ordinary. Sheppard was always aware of the fact that Atlantis was only one city on a very large, very unguarded planet. And he shared Lorne's lack of confidence in electronic surveillance.
He made some jokes about surfing that the Athosians plainly didn't get, then after a late lunch, they got back to the jumper. Altogether a completely normal trip. Except they didn't usually do this together.
Back at the jumper, as Lorne tied down the bales of dried beans -- and wasn't that going to be pleasant, sharing a tent with his team after a week's worth of beans? -- when out of the corner of his eye he saw the colonel back-lit against the blue sky in the jumper window. Sheppard picked up his pack and weighed it in his hand.
"That's pretty heavy, Lorne," Sheppard said. "Bring some extra equipment?"
Evan didn't know how to answer.
"Open your pack," he said quietly. Which was a little out of line, but Lorne did as he was asked.
When he saw the two cameras, the two fold-up tripods and the lights he'd borrowed from the scientists, Colonel Sheppard gave him a sarcastic sideways smile. Lorne would almost call it a sneer. Sheppard just snorted and shook his head.
Evan had had just about enough. As the jumper lifted up into the sky he said, looking dead ahead, "You might have said something one way or another."
"Looks like someone was making some assumptions," Sheppard said.
Which was very annoying. Rank aside, he and John were friends, or at least he'd thought so. Lorne managed to keep his voice controlled as he snapped, not looking at John, "You know what? This shit's pretty heavy, and I just dragged it all over the Athosian settlement today. I don't plan to lug it from one end of Atlantis to another. You plan on doing this or don't you?"
"Yes!" Sheppard growled fiercely, startling Lorne.
Oh. It was a moment before Lorne caught his balance.
"I don't know!" Sheppard flung out his hand in exasperation.
They flew in mutually stunned silence for a moment.
Lorne said, "Okay...."
"Okay." Sheppard said it with a curt nod, and licked his lips.
Lorne frowned in confusion, and glanced over. "If you don't mind me asking, sir -- why?"
"I don't think you should call me 'sir' in this context." John gave him a strange, brilliant smile. "It's just a little too weird." He shrugged. "I can't get it out of my mind. So I need to get it out of the way."
Great. Said like that, it sounded less like an art project and more like a fetish. He'd never considered why people in front of the camera did it, if not for the money. Evan realized his life had just gotten a lot more complicated, all because he took one picture.
Atlantis appeared on the horizon and Sheppard announced over the com, "Hello, boys and girls. This is puddlejumper one. We have... beans." And Lorne cracked up, not exactly sure why he was laughing, though Sheppard did, too.
When he got back to his quarters, Lorne dropped his pack on a chair and without getting undressed, fell into his bunk and slept. It wasn't that he was particularly tired, it's just that growing up in a house full of six kids, sleeping was the one way of "checking out" that everyone accepted. So Lorne slept a lot. Even when he wasn't really asleep but quietly running through his mind how the hell he'd gotten into this position.
He rolled onto his back, one arm flung over his head.
There really wasn't any graceful way out. He could say "no, thanks" and Sheppard would nod amiably and say "okay." But it would linger. It would leave a stink. Because he already knew more about John Sheppard than an XO really should, and the thing was, he'd kinda started it. So it wasn't fair.
He'd had no business snapping a picture of his CO in the first place.
John Sheppard had charisma, and Evan Lorne was just as susceptible to it as everyone else. He'd wanted to quantify it, figure it out, record it. What was it about John Sheppard that made everyone stare? Because while John was dead wrong about his looks -- he was pretty good-looking, Evan could objectively say that -- he was right in that there was something else. Evan had tried to figure it out, get a feel for it, and had crossed a line.
Lorne's mom would call it poking a sleeping dragon.
He decided that much as he'd like the challenge of this project (how would he capture John Sheppard? What would that shot be?) the problem was -- this was Colonel John Sheppard. Not a good idea. He was getting off this merry-go-round, thank you very much. He decided that unless John brought it up, the camera was staying in his room. His career wasn't worth screwing around with this shit. And if John mentioned it... okay, Lorne would play that by ear.
Funny enough though, the colonel was really friendly after that. He didn't hang around Lorne as much as they had been, and briefings were brisk and business-like. But in private? He was totally relaxed. Whatever freak-out he'd been having, it was done. No one mentioned the pictures. They just talked about the things they always had.
They were scheduled for another run to the mainland a week or so later, which sent a chill down Lorne's spine. But the colonel didn't mention the camera, and Lorne wasn't making that mistake a second time.
This trip was a far cry from the last one. Just after eight in the morning they hovered over the gleaming spires of Atlantis, pearlescent and blue in the sun, windows winking like facets below them. From this vantage point they could see how the city slowly turned clockwise from the steady eastward wash of the wind and waves.
Sheppard mentioned they needed to "test" the puddlejumper's limits. He bobbed his head, agreeing with himself. "Yep, I just haven't gotten around to checking this one out."
"Sir?" Lorne asked. He hadn't heard of any such test, and he'd want to be on board with a project like that. Lorne flew fixed wing aircraft while Sheppard loved the control and precision of choppers, but a pilot was a pilot – and jumpers could fly way faster than both.
"Wouldn't want her giving out in combat, now would we?" he said, and cast Lorne a quick wink – and Lorne caught on.
"Ah. Yes. Of course not, sir," Lorne said, tongue in cheek.
Sheppard rocketed the jumper straight up, then leveled it out towards the mainland, gunning it. Whoever was in control today forgot John's rank, squawking over the radio: "God damn it -- bring it back in one piece!" Sheppard shut down the annoyed commentary with an impish grin.
They beamed at each other as the jumper tore through the clouds and Sheppard turned it into a barrel roll. The speeds they hit turned the clouds into elongated streaks, the water an indistinguishable blue blur.
Sheppard angled away from the coordinates for Halling's place and set the jumper down on a beach about a mile outside the settlement. Uh-oh. Lorne's mind went immediately to his pack and the equipment he hadn't brought.
"We've got about an hour now before the Athosians expect us," Sheppard said with a stretch and sigh of evident satisfaction.
Lorne explained, wincing as Sheppard stood, "Um. I didn't bring the camera."
"That's okay." Sheppard smiled, crossing to him. "We'll wing it."
Lorne was trying to figure that out, wing it how?, when Sheppard leaned in -- and then stopped, about a foot from Lorne's face. They both froze, and Lorne glanced down the front of the colonel's pants, the unmistakable bulge, and caught up with what was happening here double-time. Oh. Shit. How his comments must have seemed -- especially the ones about the male nudes, oh, great -- how snapping pictures of John must have looked if he were, if he... since he was. Apparently.
John seemed to be doing some similar fast thinking, because he hadn't moved. It was too late for him to play it off.
"I had no idea," Lorne said, swallowing.
He heard the quiet sound of his career going down the toilet. It was one thing to get a whiff of some kind of fetish of his commanding officer's. This, on the other hand, was something he could not know.
John Sheppard spun around and paced the jumper as Lorne grasped vainly for something to salvage the situation. He licked his lips, and leaned over the jumper controls. "You think Halling would mind our being an hour early?"
"Give me a minute," Sheppard said in a strangled voice.
Sheppard sat down heavily in the pilot's seat.
"You okay?" Lorne asked, not looking at him directly. John didn't sound too good.
"No," Sheppard said. "No, I'm not."
They did the jumper run in record time, the colonel stiff-necked, distant and distracted. For pretty darn obvious reasons. Going through the motions when his mind was a million miles away. Lorne covered for him and did most of the actual work, calculated the load weights, checked in with the Athosian guards, then asked a couple kids about anything they might have seen. Lorne had figured out that John's joking around with the kids wasn't entirely play. Kids noticed stuff.
At the end of the run, Sheppard had barely finished a sentence to anyone, his P-90 balanced on his knee as he stared off across the fields.
Halling, who knew John better than any of the other Athosians, watched him with a worried expression. Lorne stuffed his hands in his pockets and explained with pursed lips and a shrug, "Stomach ache."
"Ah." Halling lit with understanding and nodded.
Sheppard gave them both a strange look when he was offered an Athosian home remedy for it. Though he accepted the bundle of herbs graciously enough.
On the ride back, he and Sheppard set a new record for tense. After a good twenty minutes of his throat being so tight he could barely swallow, Lorne finally spoke.
"I really don't want to talk about this if you don't mind," Sheppard cut him off. But Lorne barreled on regardless.
"It's just, you know that I went to art school. There were a lot of dancers and really alternative stuff and I—" Evan chanced a glance at him. "I just want you to know: I don't have a problem with it."
Sheppard was silent a long time.
It was amazing how quietly the jumpers flew. No internal engine noise, no wind resistance. Speeds that would have caused even an F-302 to shudder barely caused a whisper.
Around the time Lorne had given up on getting a response -- any response -- Sheppard said, his voice high and cracked, "So this was all an 'art' thing with you?"
"Scout's honor," Lorne said.
Sheppard asked, almost plaintively, "Then why--?"
"I told you. You're charismatic."
"I thought you said photogenic." And it amused Lorne to no end that Sheppard remembered the exact phrasing of that compliment. He really had been thinking about it.
"It's pretty much the same thing," he explained.
Lorne had thought he'd seen the extent of the weirdness that was John Sheppard. He couldn't say that he'd put the whole situation out of mind. Though he tried to. He spent a lot more time jogging, until he collapsed on his bed, running his hands down his face in exhaustion. He reminded himself over and over of what his grandma used to say: if you can't change it, don't worry about it. If you can change it, then just fix it.
Of course, a lot of officers to protect themselves would nail Lorne on his Officer Fitness Report. Then if Lorne said anything, it would look like sour grapes. But he didn't think John was that political. He'd treat Caldwell a lot better if he cared about politics. John's attitude made Lorne wince and take a second to mop up afterward.
But who was he kidding? Grandma or not, Lorne was sweating bricks.
He avoided Sheppard and prayed, his eyes skyward, that it would all just go away.
Sheppard continued their usual duties as if everything were normal, except he didn't meet Lorne's eyes. Which sent Lorne into a new round of panic. Pissed off was good, because it meant you knew what was going on. Business as usual? Not good. Not good at all. He wondered if he should do a preemptive strike, and then brushed that thought away, angry with himself. He was not that kind of guy.
It was about four days later that Sheppard came to Lorne's office (the colonel avoided his own as much as possible saying, "They can't catch a moving target"). Lorne had a massive munitions spreadsheet and Sheppard leaned over his shoulder. Nothing unusual about that.
Then he draped his arm across the back of Lorne's chair, his breath in Lorne's ear. Not touching, exactly -- unless Lorne breathed. Which he didn't. Sheppard reached over and clicked the mouse, once, planting his palm against the desk. And then continued talking over his shoulder as though this were normal behavior. Calm and cool. Premeditated.
It didn't feel like a pass. It was too calculated. So Lorne blinked a moment, then continued issuing his complaints about sloppy record-keeping and the consequences thereof. After a minute, Sheppard pushed himself away, and with a confident, narrow smile, promised to deal with the problem.
Lorne felt like they were having two entirely different conversations. His mouth slack, and completely confused, he just nodded.
After the colonel left, Lorne decided that John Sheppard wasn't just "a little unorthodox" as he consistently told new recruits from the SGC. He was nuts.
The touching started after that. First it was a slap on the back, nothing strange, but a surprise from Sheppard, who was the nod-and-wave kind of guy. Then Sheppard's hand stayed there on his shoulder until Lorne's universe narrowed to that one warm hand. He looked over at Sheppard and met that same calm, determined look. Sheppard's mouth in a straight line, eyes narrowed.
Challenging him. Waiting for him to say something. A minute or so passed without Lorne saying a damned word, then Sheppard nodded, patted him twice, and moved on.
He was starting to think that John Sheppard took the kamikaze approach to every problem. Because the last thing you did when your XO had your career in his hands, was give him more ammo.
A day or so later, Sheppard shut the door to his office for a meeting, and found a piece of lint to brush off Lorne's chest, raising Lorne's eyebrows.
"What?" Lorne laughed.
When Lorne reported in the following day to get his mission detail, Sheppard sat on his desk and straightened Lorne's tac-vest, this time with a more amused challenging gleam. Then Lorne checked in after the mission, delivering his usual post-mission report in John's doorway. John noted that Lorne had a buckle twisted around and then knelt to unsnap and re-thread it. Lorne bent to him and asked in an undertone, "You going to zip up my fly next?"
"Funny," Sheppard said as he yanked the strap tight, smiling. But after that he left Lorne's gear alone.
Finally, at a damned formal banquet for some new allies, Dr. Weir raised a toast, and Lorne felt John's hand on his knee. Not moving. Not doing anything. Just there.
Lorne leaned closer to John and said, in a carefully light New Jersey tone, "Y'mind?"
Sheppard's smile spread into a laugh and he let go, eyes sparkling as he took a sip of the ceremonial wine.
Crazy. Absolutely out of his mind. But Sheppard was strictly hands off from then on.
After that, Colonel Sheppard looked positively perky. Whatever that had been about, Lorne had passed the test.
But by this time, Lorne knew better than to think it was over. In fact, he more or less felt like a leaf in the stream. So he was deeply suspicious when he was slated for a day of leave that he hadn't requested.
He almost considered turning it down, but hey. No one turned down leave. With the exception of most of the scientists, and Dr. Weir, but Lorne figured that the military were a different breed. And he was fairly certain Sheppard had counted on that fact.
What he hadn't expected was a knock on his door on his day off at four-thirty am. Lorne blinked and scrubbed a hand through his hair as he answered it. A very awake-looking John Sheppard peered around and past him and asked, "You still have that camera?"
He knew he could say no. John Sheppard had sent that message loud and clear. It was up to him.
Lorne just sniffed and waved Sheppard in with a clumsy-sleepy gesture as he turned around, then scuffed over to dig out the camera, picking up a shirt and civvies on the way. The truth was, if you caught Lorne early enough in the morning he'd say yes to pretty much anything, just to postpone having to wake up.
Besides, he'd made his decision a while ago when he sent that email.
On to part two!